France head coach Fabien Galthié believes playing New Zealand and Italy on home soil at Rugby World Cup 2023 will present a “fantastic challenge” for his young team.
The Rugby World Cup 2023 Draw took place in Paris on Monday, with the hosts drawn in Pool A alongside the All Blacks, Italy, Americas 1 and Africa 1.
Les Bleus and New Zealand have met only once previously in the pool stage, at RWC 2011, when both teams made it all the way to the final.
“It would be exciting to play against the All Blacks at home in the first match. We love the All Blacks!” Galthié said.
“We know that playing at home is going to be a fantastic challenge for each French player. It’s going to be a big motivation.
“But, we know that sometimes you can have pressure when you are close to D-Day. We have to work on that, to prepare to be ready physically and mentally to play our best rugby.
“We need to be ready to play with the pressure but also have the freedom to play our best rugby.”
Macron ‘right behind’ hosts
France have reached three Rugby World Cup finals, in 1987, 1999 and 2011, although each showpiece appearance has ended in defeat.
Ahead of the draw, French President Emmanuel Macron told the audience at the Palais Brongniart that he hoped Les Bleus could go one step further in 2023, and lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
“Every 12 years we are in the final of the World Cup. I did the calculations and it means that in 2023, that will be 12 years after our last final so, believe me, it’s 2023 and we need to bring the Cup home,” Macron said.
“We’ll all be right behind you. We are celebrating an important anniversary in rugby – it’s the 10th World Cup and every 12 years we are in the final. In 2023, I want us to be in the final and to win the Cup. We’ll be right behind you. We’ll be enthusiastic and demanding.”
New Zealand, meanwhile, have been drawn in the same pool as Italy for a record seventh time. The fixture was the first to be played at Rugby World Cup, in Auckland in 1987, while the most recent encounter had to be cancelled due to the impact of Typhoon Hagibis at RWC 2019.
“World Cups are very special events and there’s no such thing as an easy pool, we’ve learnt that over the years,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster said.
“We missed out on playing Italy at the last World Cup because of the hurricane so it’s going to be a special occasion to play them in France.”
"South Africa will be delighted with Ireland and Scotland, it's another World Cup quarter-final for them anyway !"@BrianODriscoll gives a cheeky response to Ireland and Scotland being drawn with South Africa in Pool B.#RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/cXztviMgol— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) December 14, 2020
In Pool B, Ireland and South Africa have been drawn in a Rugby World Cup pool for the first time.
Ireland and Scotland, meanwhile, will meet for the second successive tournament — and third Rugby World Cup pool match overall — following the former’s 27-3 Pool A victory in Yokohama last year.
South Africa and Scotland have met twice previously at Rugby World Cup, with the Springboks winning on both occasions — 46-29 in Edinburgh in 1999 and 34-16 in Newcastle in 2015.
“It’s a tough pool,” Springbok captain Siya Kolisi said. “I am pretty excited about it. Ireland and Scotland, I highly rate, and we will have to be as prepared as we can be.
“There is a lot of rugby that still needs to be played and we have to focus so we are ready for the time when we are able to play rugby again.”
‘There is no easy pool’
There is a sense of déjà vu in Pool C, in which Wales, Australia and Fiji have been drawn together for the third successive Rugby World Cup.
Wales’ match against Australia in France will be the eighth time the fixture has been played at the tournament, making it the most common in Rugby World Cup history.
Fiji, meanwhile, will have played the pool’s top seeds at five successive tournaments by the time the RWC 2023 knockout rounds kick off. That run started at the last Rugby World Cup to be hosted in France, in 2007, when Fiji beat Wales to a place in the quarter-finals.
“Same pool, but in a different country. I have an affinity with Fiji having coached there and obviously Australia is going to be a big challenge,” Wales coach Wayne Pivac said.
“There’s a lot of experience in terms of players and also (assistant coach) Stephen Jones was involved [against Australia at RWC 2019], but there is a lot of work to do, certainly in terms of building depth."
Australia coach Dave Rennie added: “There is no easy pool. Look at the three teams that are confirmed they are all really tough.
“Fiji have amazing athletes and with Vern (Cotter) in charge we will give them an edge. I imagine we will all be better in three years’ time.”
England will play Japan for the first time at Rugby World Cup since the first tournament in 1987, but Eddie Jones — who led the latter to a famous win over South Africa at RWC 1995 — insisted he won’t let emotion get in the way.
Jones said: “It was great watching the highlights of the World Cup and seeing the number of edits on Japan’s triumphs at the World Cup. It’s going to be a tough game, they play the game differently, we don’t get many chances to play against teams like Japan so we are going to have to be really well prepared.
“At the same time you have got the contrast of Argentina who played probably the most physical game of rugby we saw all 2020, against the All Blacks.
“It’s probably the most contrasting pool in terms of style and philosophy and play and that’s what probably makes it the most interesting.”
Jones’ side beat Argentina on their way to the RWC 2019 final last year, in the third tournament meeting between the sides.
Argentina have also played Japan only once at Rugby World Cup. The match was played at RWC 1999, with Los Pumas winning 33-12 as the teams’ current coaches, Mario Ledesma and Jamie Joseph, lined up in the opposing teams.
“Both England and Argentina are two powerhouse teams: recently beaten the All Blacks, in great form. So, we are under no illusion how tough it’s going to be,” Joseph said.